In seminary you come across great teachers and books that you probably wouldn’t encounter otherwise. I have been blessed to sit under Dr. Tim Geddert in multiple settings over the last couple of years. One of his books, Double Take: New Meanings From Old Stories, is a book that I HIGHLY recommend if you are a teacher or preacher or simply enjoy fresh insights!!!!
In one of the chapters, he draws out a ‘new meaning’ of a text that has huge implications for how we read Romans 8. Unfortunately, it is one of those passages that are often considered “life verses” or sacredly embedded with a particular meaning. This is Romans 8.28 which reads in the NIV:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This is a verse that is deeply impactful and can help us when we are in a dark or unknown place in our lives. God truly does work for good… but, what if this passage was trying to communicate something more? Tim Geddert thinks it does, and I happen to agree with him. He points out that the word “sunergei” means basically work together. But it is a bit more complicated than that:
“Sunergei in Greek is not about one party working various ingredients together; it is about more than one party ‘working together’ on a common project. It means, quite literally, ‘work together.’ If Romans 8:28 says that God ‘works together’, then the appropriate question is not, ‘What does God work together?’ The appropriate question is, ‘With whom does God work together?’…The traditional reading of Romans 8:28 takes the phrase ‘those who love God’ in the first way (God works ‘for us’ that is, ‘for our advantage.’)…” Tim Geddert, Double Take, 175-176
If we consider the above approach, there is something wrong or missing in our translations of this beloved passage. Tim suggests that the NIV footnote (also TNIV) gets this one correct. It renders this passage to say:
“In all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good…” (TNIV 2nd footnote)
What does this mean in the context of the larger section of Romans 8? Well, I think it demonstrates that as we groan with the creation, by the Spirit of God within us; we are called to be God’s co-workers by joining in his mission to bring about good in our world! God’s mission is to point the broken places and people of the creation who are groaning, to the God who is groaning with them; and who promises to one day liberate the whole cosmos in new exodus fashion! This is missional theology at its finest!
Well, in case you are wondering how Tim justifies this translation for the passage, consider the following quote:
“In all four other occurrences of this word in the New Testament, it has the latter meaning (cf. Mark 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:16; 2 Cor. 6:1; James 2:22). Of these, the first three speak explicitly of God working with people or people working with each other. In the fourth, ‘faith and works’ are viewed metaphorically as two parties ‘working along with each other.’ The only way that sunergei is used in the New Testament is when there are two or more parties ‘working together.’ Moreover, the noun associated with this verb (sunergos i.e. co-worker, helper, fellow worker) is also always used to represent two or more parties that are working along with each other! (cf. Rom. 16:3, 9, 21; 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 1:24; 8:23; Phil. 2:25; 4:3; Col. 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:2; Philemon 24; 2 John 8). Thus the word is not about making things work together; it is about two parties working together.” Tim Geddert, Double Take, 176
A Few Questions:
1. What are the implications for this approach to translating the passage in regards to interpretation?
2. What thoughts do you have in general on the above ideas?
3. Can we preach this translation of the text without causing controversy… can we preach from a footnote?